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The Poor State Of Social Services

Susan Campbell

January 06, 2009

When the Connecticut legislators convene Wednesday for the start of their regular session, members must figure out how to run the state in an economy that is out of control.

Not to get all holy and stuff, but the story of Jesus and the five loaves and two fishes fits here. Somehow, policy-makers will have to stretch woefully thin resources to help the multitudes. To them falls the tough job of figuring out what to do with people like Evelyn O. or Charles Capers, the man they call "the Mayor." Or with the people who keep evading the homeless-outreach team in Hartford. Or the single mother in Manchester who needs job training.

We've run out of superlatives to describe our current state. The country lost 1.9 million jobs this year. Home prices dropped by 18 percent in October.

The state is facing a $356 million deficit while businesses are crumbling, employees are being walked out the door and would-be retirees are trying to figure out how to stay in a smaller, more competitive job market to recoup just a little of what they've lost from pensions and the like.

Help should come from a healthy social-services network, but we don't have one. Social-service agencies are struggling under the same weight as everyone else. Nonprofits can't pick up the slack when their donations are dwindling.

So that's the picture facing the legislators, and good luck to them.

While they're facing this tough job, in the middle of all the people who need a hand, I want to remind them that AIDS is still a crisis. People who work with people with AIDS say they're facing an especially painful cut in their budget what amounts to $3 million for AIDS services. That's about 40 percent of the whole budget.

The state counts 10,693 people with HIV/AIDS in Connecticut. They need all kinds of help, in housing, in job training, in managing their medication.

Among them is Evelyn O., a 39-year-old woman who has been racked by lupus. Evelyn O. also has full-blown AIDS, with stories about her days of drug use heroin and crack that would curl your hair.

That's what brings her to the Connections Wellness Center, a project of AIDS Project Hartford. Evelyn O.'s been coming here for six years, first to support her boyfriend, and now for herself.

Today is a good day. She's smiling. On bad days, she's tired, dizzy, sick to her stomach. Her bones ache. She's anxious.

But she's calm here, where she is surrounded by friends, some of whom have been living with the virus for a couple of decades. They help her stay focused, give her direction, remind her to stay positive. The center probably won't stay open after the budget cuts, and Evelyn O. knows what that means. Without support, she may well slide back. She'd rather fill her days here, with people who get it.

She tells her story, gets up, and the chair is quickly filled with the courtly Charles Capers, the Mayor. He makes it his business to act as shepherd for the newcomers. Recently, Evelyn O. didn't show, and the Mayor was among the people who called to check on her. (She had a cold; nothing more.)

The Mayor has been living with AIDS for 26 years. He credits his longevity to his mother and grandmother, both nurses who watched over him early on. Still, he's clear-eyed about his prospects.

"Before I die," he says, "I'm going to save me some people."

So yes, the center could close, maybe save the state some cash. That's important these days, sure. But there's the price of services, and then there's the cost of taking them away.

I'll be thinking of the legislators as they navigate through the lives of these folks.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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